Back in the day,
college newbies relied on good old word of mouth (or guessing) when figuring out what the hell to bring with them for their very first year. And now, even with the power of Google to solve just about any packing dilemma, vetted advice from veteran students is still tough to top. Our shopping solution? Combine the two.
We polled real college students to create a virtual
shopping list filled with the first-hand products they found worthy of splurging or saving on. Some are still enrolled, some are recent grads, and all are experienced packers when it comes to campus lifestyle essentials. Ahead, find this good old word-of-mouth guide filled with the dorm goods, tech gadgets, and fashion accessories worth investing in (or not) for during your next four years and counting. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
Unless your college living situation comes with a shared kitchen, investing in a compact fridge for your room is key — and as far as mini fridges go, this dual freezer model from Commercial Cool is about as roomy as they come.
Compact Single-Door Mini Refrigerator & Freezer, $169.44, available at
Laundry baskets don't all skew towards cheap-plastic or pricey-woven numbers — and this under $20, collapsible-weave product with minimalist-chic rope handles proves it.
Square Resin Weave Hamper With Rope Handles, $15.41, available at
For some, college years are the, "I lived in leggings," years — so invest in a quality pair or two that won't pill, rip, or slip. This high-waisted pair from Alo is engineered to contour to your shape with its four-way stretch and moisture-wicking fabric that can take you from yoga classes to library study sessions and beyond. Having a few better pairs of basic black leggings means you won't constantly being throwing away and buying new ones.
High-Waist Moto Legging, $114, available at
Alo Yoga More
It's recommended to recycle pillows every one to two years, so buying a pair that doesn't tote a steep price tag for college may be your best budget bet — and with this bundled under-$10 set from Target, you won't need to sacrifice quality for affordability.
Standard/Queen 2pk Bed Pillow Set, $8, available at
Invest in a durable jacket that you can transition from rainy gloom to windy sunshine with stylish ease.
The City Anorak - Black, $88, available at
Since you'll likely be walking outside a lot more on your new campus, investing in a solid winter coat is a smart move — and you don't need to spend hundreds on a North Face or Moncler to get the job done. While not exactly "cheap," we like the sharp price-point on this viral Amazon gem that combines warm utility with trendsetting style.
Women's Thickened Down Jacket, $139.99, available at
If you're going to be stuck sleeping on top of a twin-sized, plastic mattress situation, you may as well invest to make it as comfy as possible. This luxury topper is crafted from a pure cotton-percale casing and filled with two layers of duck down and feathers.
The White Company
Luxury Feather & Down Topper Featherbed, $175.2, available at
The White Company More
Playing devil's advocate, if a fancy featherbed isn't your top shopping priority, you can still save on a premium college bed enhancer with this under $100 three-inch topper crafted out of memory foam.
3-Inch Ventilated Memory Foam Mattress Topper, $69.99, available at
You don't need to go overboard price-wise on a pair of chic-comfortable going-out booties — especially when you'll likely be scuffing the hell out of them and getting an indeterminable amount of drinks spilled on them. This durable and stylish faux-leather pair from Target hits the shopping nail on the head with an under-$30 price.
A New Day
Ellie Chelsea Boots, $29.99, available at
This top-rated pair of shoes is a classic fashion investment that will likely last you a lifetime — both in terms of durability and never-going-out-of-style-ability.
1461 W, $119.95, available at
Similarly to the going-out bootie, a going-out purse in college does not need to be pricey. Feel stylish and secure with a $20 bag that you won't cry your eyes out over if it happens to get lost on your way back from the bars.
Quilted Crossbody Bag With Twistlock, $20, available at
Spending the extra money on a well made pack goes a long way in supporting your back throughout four full years of heavy textbook toting. The North Face boasts top-rated options made from durable nylon materials with compact compartments and streamlined shoulder support.
The North Face
Women's Surge, $128.95, available at
The multi-compartment, mesh shower tote consistently tops students' shopping lists as the affordable college-essential MVP.
Bed Bath & Beyond
Mesh Shower Tote, $9.99, available at
Bed Bath & Beyond More
Nice bedding can be pricey, but investing in a bundled set will serve you and your wallet well throughout the transitional years ahead — like this brightly patterned comforter, sheet, and pillow case collection crafted from 100%-cotton
Iris Sketched Floral Comforter Snooze Set, $169, available at
Urban Outfitters More
For dorms and starter apartments with inconsistent heat and air that can't be controlled, instead of spending on a stylish comforter, get a basic white insert and then add your own flare with a cute, affordable duvet cover. This reversible style comes with two matching pillow cases and is cheery on one side and calming on the other. It can also be used as a light cover without a comforter.
The Pioneer Woman
Ticking Stripe Duvet Cover , $33.05, available at
Whether you want to take your tunes with you in your shower caddy, to a hall party, or out on your campus's green, investing in a portable speaker with Bluetooth connectivity and durable splash-proof protection is key.
Flip 3 Splashproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker, $72.99, available at
Scented drawer liners are a small and inexpensive way to luxe up your college living space. We love this blue-printed roll infused with a fresh clean-linen scent.
Scented Drawer Liners (Fresh Linen), $16.95, available at
Although a computer is a massive investment, it's one that pays off throughout college and beyond. MacBook Airs are less expensive and more compact than other Apple laptop models and do wonders with user precision in coursework, personal pastimes, and networking,
13-inch MacBook Air, $1099, available at
The flexibility of a tablet meets the workability of a laptop in Microsoft's Surface Pro — the device easily transitions from laptop to tablet and studio modes and has the ability to take digital notes annotated by hand, all at an under $1,000 price tag.
Surface Pro 6, $729.99, available at
Skip spending too much money on framed prints and movie posters you may grow tired of post first semester and opt for this $20 customizable photo-display unit made from wood and hemp instead.
Hangit Photo Display, $20, available at
If your dorm room won't fit a full sofa, try this Papasan chair frame and cushion combo instead as a just-as-cozy seating solution.
Pier 1 Imports
Chair Frame With Fuzzy Cushion, $179.95, available at
Pier 1 Imports More
Picking out a pair of high-quality earrings that are secure, stylish, and transitional before heading off to school will make for effortless accessorizing your class to night-out looks.
Crystal Pearl Stud Earrings, $78, available at
Be savvy with your layers if you're heading off to a cold-weather college —
Uniqlo's under $20 HeatTech styles are affordable fashion at its finest. Uniqlo
HeatTech Scoop Neck Long-Sleeve Shirt, $19.9, available at
Investing in room decor is also an investment in self-care; designing a space that brings you joy and comfort can help to ease the home-away-from-home transition. These artful, soft throw pillows are hand-sewn using 100% linen in the U.S.
Linen & Cloth
Kate Spade Pardo Fauna Flaxseed Pillow, $45, available at
Can you put a price on premium entertainment? Maybe you can — but for a 43-inch Toshiba model complete with built-in Fire TV capabilities that will last you through all your college apartments and beyond, the investment price is right.
Ultra HD Smart LED TV - Fire TV Edition, $249.99, available at
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